“Then he said, ‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?’

He answered, ‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.’

– Genesis 18:32 

Ten good men can save a city, though they may be hard to find. Goodness, pure and simple, isn’t exactly the stuff of national headlines.  

Indeed, the good that men do publicly is often tainted by their ambition and envy. Men are only ever proven good in secret. What a man prays on the street corner tells you very little about him. What he prays alone reveals the very depths of his soul.  

Beware the man who saves his prayer only for the public square, who constantly makes a gaudy show of his love for God, family, or country. Such loves should be private and personal affairs, not colorful battle standards to wave ostentatiously or political weapons to wield with wild abandon. 

Yet, these days, what should be a personal, private love is often reduced to vainglorious display as more and more “good” men lose themselves to the sound and fury of our popular spectacles. Social media has placed everyone on a worldwide platform, wittingly or not. This presents a problem. As the song says, “When life’s a stage in this brand new age, how do we engage?”  

Last week, it was Montgomery’s turn to engage on the global public stage, as her historic downtown Riverfront became the latest battlefield for national narrative warriors. Within only a few days, the Montgomery Riverfront Brawl inspired a deluge of headlines, think pieces, political calls-to-actions, dank memes, lucrative T-shirt schemes, and even brilliant comedic re-enactments.  

Then it happened. 

Much to my surprise, there I was last Tuesday evening, my chubby, unshaven face on national TV for all the world to see. My impromptu interview with Harriot II Riverboat Captain Jim Kittrell the preceding day had gone viral, and thanks to the good captain’s unplanned call to my show, I got the scoop.  

To see myself and my hometown thrust into international headlines was surreal to the point of being unreal and untrue. Something about the two-minute Fox News report featuring snippets of my interview seemed factual but not accurate, like a worn-thin copy of a copy or what pretentious people might call a simulacrum. 

Then the thought came to me: How could the Riverfront Brawl, or any such event, be sufficiently boiled down in 120 seconds? Yet, the news cycle and social media algorithms do this daily, reducing life into short sound bites and video clips for swift public consumption with seemingly little private reflection.  

Every day you can see who’s up and who’s down on the big stage. Last week’s heroes and villains are shoveled down the memory hole to make room for this week’s set of public dramas and controversies. Our private passions, the good we do as well as the bad, are merely grist for the mill to be ground down into the latest media and political craze.

Is this the game we wanted to play when we ushered in the information age? When did public spectacle become a replacement for the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful – a replacement for the pursuit of individual happiness? 

My suggestion – and I say this looking in the mirror at the plank in my own eye after my recent 15 seconds of fame – is to turn off those screens, big and small, that present us with these daily public charades. These screens are not loving windows to the world meant to foster truth, beauty, and goodness; they are frivolous filters full of public alarms and frights meant to distract us from the quiet stillness and reflection of our unseen private prayers. Turn these screens off long enough to remember what’s real and enduring in life.

As State Sen. Kirk Hatcher recently told CNN, I also hope the Montgomery Riverfront brawl becomes an opportunity for “hope and healing.” However, I genuinely believe that if Montgomery or anywhere else on God’s green earth wishes to move from a negative to a positive peace, it will require less public spectacle and more private acts of love. 

We indeed swim in national waters whose currents are not completely under our personal control. But have hope: the individual will always have the radical, God-given freedom to take on worthy responsibilities to help himself and his beloved fellows. Do not underestimate the power of a few good men to change the world for the better. Ten good men can save a city, but you probably won’t see them in the national headlines — instead, they are usually found where no one else but God himself is looking.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email newsandviews931@gmail.com.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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